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Are Hiking Backpacks Waterproof? Is a Waterproof Backpack Necessary?

Hiking in a rainstorm sucks! It’s cold, wet, and miserable, but things could be worse. If you’re not careful your entire pack could get soaked. This brings up the question: Are Hiking Backpacks Waterproof?

It’s rare for a hiking backpacks to be completely waterproof. The polyester/nylon shells make packs water resistant, but water will seep in through the seams. I recommend using a pack liner and rain cover to keep the inside of your pack dry.

If you’re concerned about moisture leaking through your pack I highly recommend reading the rest of this article. I will teach you how to make sure everything in your pack stays dry.

Do I Need A Waterproof Hiking Backpack?

There are a few manufacturers that make waterproof hiking backpacks, but they’re an oddity. They’re really expensive, uncomfortable, and unnecessary for the average hiker.

I have the 35 Liter Sea to Summit Flow Dry Pack (pictured above). It’s great for specialty trips where I’m kayaking, hiking through flooded canyons, or strapped to the back of my motorcycle, but I wouldn’t want to hike more than a few miles with it.

There’s just no ventilation with a waterproof pack. Your back will be completely drenched in sweat within 20 minutes. That’s not a big deal when you’re already wet, but it would suck hiking.

Personally, I would recommend buying a normal hiking backpack and learning how to waterproof it. You can get a bag that’s basically waterproof for less than 20 bucks.

Waterproofing A Hiking Backpack

Waterproofing your pack won’t get it 100% water tight, but it will be able to withstand the average rainstorm. For a few bucks you can waterproof any hiking backpack.

There are three main components to waterproofing your pack. Use dry bags to protect the most important gear, a pack liner (compactor bag) to protect the inside contents, and rain cover to protect the outside of the bag.

Pack Liner Is Crucial

Your pack liner is the first layer of defense when trying to waterproof a hiking backpack. It’s by far the most important piece of waterproofing equipment. The liner protects the entire inside compartment of your bag.

There are 2 main trains of thought when picking out a pack liner. You can either choose a commercial liner like the Osprey Ultralight Liner, or use disposable compactor bags. The commercial liner is the more permanent solution, but both methods work well.

Compactor bags have 2 major advantages over a dedicated liner. They’re lightweight and very cheap. You can also use a regular heavy duty garbage bag in a pinch, but contractor bags are less likely to tear.

Check out my post describing the difference between pack liners and contractor bags.

It’s pretty obvious how to use a pack liner. Empty out the contents of your pack and line the inside with the liner. Load up all your gear and you’re good to go.

I still like to use a waterproof compression stuff sack for my sleeping bag just in case. My ALPS Mountaineering Compression Stuff Sack cuts down on the space my sleeping bag takes up and guarantees it stays dry.

Pack Rain Cover

A backpack rain cover serves multiple purposes. It protects the top of your bag and outside pockets and prevents rain from leaking into the pack. Covers also protect the outside of your pack when hiking through dense vegetation.

Rain covers help protect the top of your pack from getting wet and saturated, but water will still seep in down your shoulders. You will experience leakage if all you’re using is a rain cover.

Most people address this issue by using liners and dry bags to protect important gear. A rain cover will also help protect gear in external pockets and strapped to the outside of your pack.

Dry Bags and Compression Stuff Sacks

Do yourself a favor and pickup a waterproof compression stuff sack for your sleeping bag. They cut down the size of your sleeping bag and guarantee it doesn’t get wet. I might not even bother with a pack liner if the weather looks nice.

I really like the Alps Mountaineering Compression Stuff Sack, but there are a bunch of other brands. It’s really durable and comes in a bunch of different colors/sizes. A compression sack will really help you maximize space in your pack.

Use dry bags for your spare clothes, food, and the rest of your important gear. Any cheap pack of dry bags will work. Pick up a pack of different colors/sizes and see what works.